LightSquared announces GPS interference fix, agrees to pay for government retrofits

LightSquared declared it has come up with a simple, affordable solution to the high-precision GPS interference problems posed by its planned wholesale LTE network--and it's willing to foot the bill to retrofit certain government GPS devices.

The company signed a deal with Javad GNSS to develop a system that can be adapted to work with high-precision GPS devices, including those already in the agriculture, surveying, construction and defense industries.

Javad GNSS has completed the design, made prototypes and tested those prototypes. The vendor is expected to have 25 pre-production units released for public tests in October, followed by mass production. High-precision receivers for positioning applications are expected to go to market by November 2011 and precision timing devices by March 2012.

Each receiver will cost between $50-$300, depending on device and specs, Lightsquared said.

"LightSquared is in active conversations with the government about covering the cost in whatever way we can legally, of retrofitting all the federal government GPS precision devices," said Terry Neal, a spokesman for LightSquared, in a call with reporters. "We don't know how many devices there are, and we're not sure if anyone does because it's classified, but we think it's somewhere in the tens of thousands devices."

Neal said the reason LightSquared focused on government devices is because it didn't want tax payers to take a hit. It won't pay for retrofitting of private GPS devices.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, a group of GPS device makers opposed to LightSquared's network plan, called the solution overstated: "LightSquared has, as usual, oversimplified and greatly overstated the significance of the claims of a single vendor to have 'solved' the interference issue. There have been many vendor claims that have not proven out in rigorous tests and the demanding tests of marketplace acceptance. Moreover, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation and a few prototypes does not a solution make."

LightSquared has been under fire since its June report to the FCC showed that its proposed LTE network network operating in satellite spectrum posed an interference problem to existing GPS devices. LightSquared can't operate in the band until the FCC is satisfied that interference won't be a problem.

LightSquared in recent months has made a number of concessions, including agreeing to temporarily stay out of the upper part of the spectrum that is adjacent to the GPS bands.

Last week, the company sweetened its concessions with the GPS community, presenting the FCC with an amended version of its LTE network plan. The filing was made as LightSquared came under withering criticism at a congressional hearing over its planned wholesale network.

In the filing, LightSquared proposed two significant modifications to its plan, which has already been modified from the company's original proposal. Under the latest version, LightSquared still plans to use the lower 10 MHz chunk of its L-Band spectrum, but will now limit the power of its base stations on the ground to -30dBm when it launches its network.

Still, the FCC declared that more tests are needed to sort out GPS interference concerns. In a public notice released earlier this week, the FCC said that "additional targeted testing is needed to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by LightSquared will not cause harmful interference to GPS operations."

The FCC's notice came days after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration sent a letter to the Departments of Defense and Transportation, which said that the NTIA wants to have more tests as well. The NTIA said testing for personal/general-navigation receivers be designed to allow for completion by Nov. 30, but that testing a PCTEL antenna to mitigate interference with timing receivers need not be completed by Nov. 30, and that testing for precision receivers cannot even start yet. The FCC gave no timetable in its public notice for when its requested tests will be completed.

For more:
- see this release
- see this PC Magazine article

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